Leave No Department Behind
by Matt Kinsman How much wasted space is in your magazine? You know, those pages like the masthead that rarely change month to month and usually don’t get a close look by anyone but the proofreader.
Two prominent consumer magazines have developed ways to make their mastheads and letters fun, engaging touchpoints with readers without adding much additional work for the edit staff. Both editors say that the changes they’ve made to their mastheads have become their favorite part of the magazine. While these two examples are from larger consumer titles, they could be tweaked for any size magazine and even have applications for b-to-b.
Putting Service In the Masthead
Backpacker uses its masthead to dispense tidbits of knowledge to its readers. "It’s a small thing, you could argue it’s not a page most readers look at," says editor-in-chief Jon Dorn. "I’d counter that readers have been trained not to look at it."
Each issue, Dorn sends the staff an e-mail describing a theme and asking for feedback. To compliment a story on day hikes, Dorn asked the staff for feedback on their favorite day hikes. The information was listed next to their name on the masthead and called "Staff Picks." In the October issue, which was dedicated to outdoor survival, staffers recounted their closest calls on backpacking trips and the stories were placed on the masthead under the heading "Close Calls." "The time involved editorally is probably less than half an hour," says Dorn. "It’s probably the easiest page to produce in the magazine."
But the pay-off is significant. "This lets readers know we’re out there doing this;even our Southwest sales manager was out hiking and was chased by a bear," says Dorn.
"It’s not something that will carry a lot of weight or convince people to renew, but we feel pages are so precious that we don’t want to miss any opportunity to remind them why they’re picking up Backpacker," he adds. "We’re a service magazine at heart. While it’s not a great deal of detail, it’s a little more than you might get somewhere else."
Making Use of "Wasted Space"
When searching for his latest art director, Esquire editor-in-chief David Granger gave candidates a test that asked what they would do with pages such as the masthead and TOC. "Why in magazines are there always wasted pages?" asks Granger. "The masthead, the letters page, all these things are necessary but are usually ugly pages and wasted space. We asked each candidate to come up with new use of the space rather than obligatory space-filling information."
The winning candidate integrated the masthead and letters page. The result was a new section called "This Way In" that serves to provide information about the magazine in an entertaining way. Instead of just running a random assortment of letters, the magazine features amusing sidebars or offers service for readers;such as finding affordable fashion in response to a reader complaining that the clothes profiled in the magazine are too expensive. The section also features out-takes from some of the more colorful letters the editors receive. In the November issue, Esquire wrote about a number of people on staff, drew lines to their names and did visual representations of them and integrated them into the masthead.
"We do that to make it a genuinely more entertaining experience and not waste sections," says Granger. "This has turned out to be one of my favorite sections of the magazine."
It’s also provoked response from readers. "We get a lot more mail than we ever got before," says Granger. "Since we started it a year ago, the number of e-mails and letters trippled or quadrupled;they see us responding to our readers. Now we get other reader’s letters about other articles. A story runs one month, then a letter about the story, then a letter about the letter. The dialogue is not just editor to audience but between readers."